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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Median Wealth Increases, but U.S. Still Stuck at 27th in World

The new Global Wealth Report and Global Wealth Databook from Credit Suisse were released last week. According to the Report (p. 3),
Global wealth has reached a new all-time high of USD 241 trillion, up 4.9% since last year and 68% since 2003, with the USA accounting for 72% of the latest increase. Average [mean] wealth per adult reached a new all-time high of USD 51,600, with wealth per adult in Switzerland returning to above USD 500,000.
For the United States, this represents an increase in mean wealth per adult of 11.4% from mid-2012 to mid-2013 (Databook, p. 92). Median wealth per adult increased even faster, from $38,786 to $44,911, or 15.8%, although we should recall that measurement of median wealth is less reliable than that for mean wealth.

Nonetheless, while these data represent improvement for the typical American, there was no change in our ranking relative to the rest of the world. While Kuwait and Cyprus fell below the U.S., Slovenia and, more surprisingly, Greece now have higher median wealth per adult. Thus, the United States remains only 27th in the world.

These data are significant for at least two reasons. First, they highlight the fact that while the United States has a higher gross domestic product per capita than all but four of the 26 countries ahead of it in median wealth per adult (Qatar, Luxembourg, Singapore, and Norway), the long-term trend of economic policies has clearly hurt the middle class. Inequality is a big part of the explanation here: mean wealth per adult in the U.S. is 6.7 times median wealth per adult, the highest ratio in the top 27. By contrast, in #1 Australia the mean-to-median ratio is only 1.8:1. In fact, this ratio is less than 3:1 for 19 of the 26 countries with higher median wealth per adult. In Slovenia, mean wealth per adult is less than 1.5 times median wealth per adult! (All figures calculated from Databook, Table 3-1.)

Second, these low levels of wealth contribute to the coming retirement crisis of the middle class. Americans have low levels of saving, while Social Security still looks vulnerable to the chopping block despite our already high level of elder poverty.

Here are the top 27 countries by median wealth per adult.

Country                                                      Median Wealth
                                                                   Per Adult

1.  Australia                                                    $219,505
2.  Luxembourg                                               $182,768
3.  Belgium                                                     $148,141
4.  France                                                        $141,850
5.  Italy                                                           $138,653
6.  United Kingdom                                         $111,524
7.  Japan                                                         $110,294
8.  Iceland                                                      $104,733
9.  Switzerland                                               $  95,916
10. Finland                                                     $  95,095
11. Norway                                                    $  92,859
12. Singapore                                                 $  90,466
13. Canada                                                     $  90,252
14. Netherlands                                              $  83,631
15. New Zealand                                            $  76,607
16. Ireland                                                      $  75,573
17. Spain                                                        $  63,306
18. Qatar                                                        $  58,237
19. Denmark                                                  $  57,675
20. Austria                                                     $  57,450
21. Greece                                                      $  53,937
22. Taiwan                                                      $  53,336
23. Sweden                                                     $  52,677
24. United Arab Emirates                                 $  51,882
25. Germany                                                   $  49,370
26. Slovenia                                                    $  44,932
27. United States                                            $  44,911

Source: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, Table 3-1

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.